The Letter

This evening I wanted to move a little closer back to pure storytelling, dropping the pictorial distractions so that I could concentrate on giving the tale the language I felt it deserved.  I called this one, “The Letter.”

Dearest Molly, Thank you so much for your letter the other day. All of the lads got quite the laugh out of it.

Tommy was especially pleased with your picture, saying that as soon as you turn 18 he’ll be ringing you up for a stroll.

I am fine here, if a wee bit nervous – one wants to make the best of himself, you know.

I would hate hate to have come all this way only to crumble under the pressure at the last minute. Ha ha!

You asked what it was like here, so I’ll try to tell you. Right now it’s a bit warm, but there’s a hint of a storm coming.

The air has that same heavy feel we used to notice along the river back home.

Strangely enough, you can still smell the sea, even though we must be many miles away.

We even see the occasional gull flying over now and again. Thankfully, they are not as pesky as they are in Newcastle!

The land surrounding us is quite lovely as well. Fairly flat, but with number of elms and oaks for the birds to sing within.

At night, just before the stars come out to shine, you can hear them chattering away, along with the odd owl or two.

Why, the other evening, we even heard a nightingale whistling for his love in the darkness! It was quite lovely!

Let’s see, you wanted to know some more about my new friends, as well. Tommy you know – he’s now blowing you kisses, he says.

He’s a corker, that one! Then there’s Stephens. He’s a farmer from the Midlands, which means hardly anyone can understand him.

Strong as an ox, he is, but as gentle as a baby. He has the softest voice, but oh, you should hear him sing, Molly. Heavenly.

Then there’s Corrigan from Yorkshire. He’s the youngest of the lot, and like Tommy a bit of a joker – always wrestling about.

Oh, and Molls, we have a genuine highlander with us! MacDougall’s his name, and he even has his pipes with him!

We’ve been trying to get him to play for us, but he says it’s not quite the time, yet, and to be patient.

Let’s see… that leaves Dickey and Robert. Dickey’s a quiet one, always reading in his bunk and scribbling poetry in a notebook.

Robert is terribly shy, and seems as just as nervous as I. I suspect he bears a similar desire to do well in the coming months.

All of us were terribly confused in our first few days here, but we all seem to have settled in a bit the last few days.

There’s so much at stake here that we’ve taken to supporting each other much like a second family – sharing chores and the like.

We’ve become quite close these last months, and I’ve come to trust each of these lads as I would a brother.

Tell Mum we all said “Thank you” for the cakes. They were quite the treat after some of the bland foods we’ve been eating.

Now I guess it’s time for the hard part.

I don’t know what I can say to make Da understand why I did what I did.

I understand his objections, but he needs to understand that I feel like I have a duty to follow my heart in this matter.

It’s not about politics, but rather, a sense of becoming, if you can understand what I mean.

I have to become the man I know I can become, and this is just one of the steps I feel I have to take.

This is not some “childish impulse,” as he says, but a carefully considered decision. I’m fully aware of the risks should I fail.

ALL of us are afraid of what COULD happen. But the alternative, doing nothing, is something I would consider far worse.

Each man has to choose his own path in life, to make his own choices between what is right and wrong.

I have chosen this one because, to me, it was the only one that made any moral sense.

I hope that someday he can come to understand this, and possibly forgive me as you have done.

Ah, my dearest Molly, how much I miss you all over here.

I miss the sound of your laughter as you trundle down the stairs for school. The smell of Mum’s bread on Sunday mornings.

I miss the sounds of your voices as we sat around the dinner table discussing the days events.

I even miss the fishy smell of the river, and the bustle of Eldon Square. I even miss the coal dust in the bricks.

All of these places, and the memories they awaken, are as important to me now as the warmth of your love, sweet Molly.

They remind of what I came here to do; what I MUST do.

The Lieutenant has just informed me that it’s time to prepare, so I’ll close here.

I’ve enclosed a stem of bluebell I found this morning near the support trench. It reminds me, dear Molly, of you and home.

Take care of yourself, angel. And give Mummy and Da my love.

Your Loving Brother, Reggie

Taken from the personal effects of:

Pvt. Reginald Walsh

1st Tyneside Irish Brigade

KIA: La Boisselle, Somme Valley

July 1, 1916